ASP - Autism Support Project
A story by PLUS (Forth Valley) Ltd
The Autism Support Project (ASP) enables children and young people to meet, interact and take part in activities with other autistic young peoples. They build relationships, make friends, and develop life skills. 3 groups meet fortnightly with a separate weekly online Dungeons and Dragons sessions.
What ASP - Autism Support Project did
During the year, the following activities took place:
- Increased from 2 to 3 groups which allowed us to reduce the numbers and allowed for improved social distancing for activities.
- Rebuilding in person relationships with lots of board games, quizzes, utilising interactive floor equipment and general socialising
- Community activities – each group was able to enjoy a night at the bowling, encouraging social skills around ordering food and money handling
- Activities continued over the summer holiday – in the past the groups would have taken a break. These sessions were more relaxed with outdoor play incorporated such as trampolining, table tennis competition, water challenges etc
- Pumpkin decorating challenge
- Winter Wonderland short stories created by the group which were used for an interactive trail at the Macrobert Arts Centre over the winter break
- Increased social focus with a pizza and film night, bake off event and a quiz night
- continued to facilitate the weekly online Dungeons and Dragons sessions
- continued support the whats app support group for families and returned to in person support for the parents
- we were able to invest some money in resources for the group to allow them to begin to develop some stop/start animation projects
The children who participate are often referred to PLUS, by a family member or a professional.
In terms of successes, getting the groups running in person has been the biggest success. The support we can provide is enhanced and it support improved relations between peers - particularly for those who have started the project throughout the year.
What PLUS (Forth Valley) Ltd has learned
We have learned that whilst it was useful to explore providing online support, for the ASP group, providing support face to face is more beneficial - with a larger number of young people able to engage in this format.
The ability to develop friendships is much easier for the group in person, however many of them did have great success when we were online.
Being in the role for a number of years, the Project Coordinator is now seeing young people who started the project with her, ready to leave once they finish 6th year at school. She has watched the young people grow and will be sad to see them go. She is proud to have been part of their journey and seeing how much they have developed and benefitted from the project. Seeing the positive influence they are having as a peer group and the strength of their relationships has been a great experience. There is hope that some of them may choose to come back as volunteers in the future.
How PLUS (Forth Valley) Ltd has benefitted from the funding
Better Breaks funding allowed us to provide continuity to a group of young people, many of whom have had lasting effects from their negative experience of the pandemic. Being able to provide them with consistency and to retain their trust has helped us to lead them out of the other side of their isolation, some of which was self induced. We are able to reach Forth Valley wide due to the flexibility of the funding, which has been really positive for us, particularly when we see the strength in some of the peer relationships, which young people who would not have met each other without their involvement in the project. This year for us hasn't been about expansion. It has been about rebuilding relationships and working on our foundations in order to allow for future growth.
28 children and young people across the Forth Valley will regularly attend ASP sessions, participating in activities that they have helped plan.
27 children and young people were supported over the year, which is one short from our target. 25 were supported via the fortnightly ASP sessions and a further 7 were supported by weekly online Dungeons and Dragons sessions. 2 of the 7 only attended the online sessions. In total, 57 sessions took place for the ASP and 35 Dungeons and Dragons sessions took place.
F is 16yrs and has been attending After School Club at PLUS for the last few years. He has suffered a lot with anxiety due to lockdown but has enjoyed being able to access online Dungeons and Dragons sessions throughout the last year. His parents felt that F would benefit from joining a group with people that have the same interests as him. He joined the ASP in person sessions in February and has really enjoyed it. His peers have welcomed him to the group and he has participated in a variety of activities such as Kahoot quizzes, chess and enjoyed watching the other boys playing Star Wars Armada. Feedback from mum was that F was looking forward to continue coming to the group and she has thanked PLUS for giving C this opportunity.
Provision of 38 ASP sessions per year (19 per ASP group) provides each family / carer of a child with Aspergers with approximately 38 hours respite a year.
57 ASP sessions took place over the period of funding, along with an additional 35 online Dungeons and Dragons Sessions. In total, these 92 sessions provided families with 868 hours of support, which averages at 32 hours per family. This is slightly below our target and is likely influenced by the project not running at full capacity for the length of the funding.
S is 17yrs and has not been attending the group due to anxiety, uncertainty about their gender identity and struggling with their diagnosis. Over the last 6 months S hasn’t been attending school either which made home life difficult. S has recently been attending counselling, which they attend weekly and they have asked to return to the group. S was keen to talk to a staff member and one of the group members to ask how they dealt with their diagnosis and to aid their own understanding of themselves and Autism. Through discussions with mum and the parent of the peer, we were able to facilitate this meeting. This conversation went well and has given S a safe space to discuss their diagnosis with a peer who is confident in themselves and has ably acted as a role model for S when they attended sessions previously. The trust S felt towards this peer was clear as this was a difficult conversation for them to have. It also shows how far they have progressed in the time they have been away from the group. The outcome of this conversation has been a request to start attending the group again, which we have been able to facilitate. S is now able to attend fortnightly and reconnect with peers they had developed a relationship before. This is increasing their independence away from home, their time with peers and giving them a chance to take part in activities they enjoy. It is also now providing mum with regular short breaks from her caring responsibilities, something which she had missed due to the difficulties her child was experiencing.
61 carers / family members will benefit from respite from short breaks while children / young people attend ASP groups. 9 Parents Group meetings/information sessions will take place
A total of 76 carers/family members were able to benefit from short breaks whilst the project was taking place. To provide additional support to families we facilitated 6 parent support sessions, 4 of which were online and 2 were hybrid where parents were in person and online. Families have expressed their preference of meeting in person however Covid and childcare issues have meant that the hybrid model has worked really well for the last 2 events. In addition to this, due to a high number of females joining the project along with requests from families, the Project Coordinator has worked alongside our Family Support Coordinator to facilitate a parent support group for autistic girls. 2 events took place in this funding period. As referred to in the case study an additional 2 1:1 in person sessions were provided in person to a parent who was in need of support. Families continued to be supported by the Project coordinator with phone calls and the group Whats app.
Before lockdown S’s mum used to attend the ASP Parent support group, but when the group moved online during the pandemic, S's mum found this more challenging to participate in. Through regular communication with mum, the Project Coordinator was able to offer her the support she needed, which included some 1:1 in person meetings. Mum is very appreciative of all the support from PLUS and from the other parents who are able to offered her support through the parents WhatsApp group for the project.
At least 28 children and young people will attend ASP sessions participating in activities they help plan and are interested in. They will have fun with peers in an environment they feel safe, accepted and not judged.
57 ASP sessions took place over the period of funding, along with an additional 35 online Dungeons and Dragons Sessions. 92 sessions took place in total for the young people. These sessions supported a total of 27 children and young people. The 3 individual ASP groups provide feedback at the end of their sessions and also spend some time planning their programme for the weeks ahead. This ensures that they are invested in the project, they learn skills like negotiation with their peers around the planning and are able to have an understanding of what to expect from the group in the weeks ahead.
N is 12yrs and joined the group in October 2021. She comes across as a confident young girl but has struggled this year due to her family having Covid and being unable to attend the group for a period of time. N returned when we had a bowling event. This was the first time that N had been at an event outside PLUS so this was a new experience for her. She was very anxious and chose to wear her ear defenders when she arrived at the bowling. The others in the group were supportive towards N and were pleased to see her back. Once she had settled she took the ear defenders off. N is well liked in the group and has a good rapport with everyone. It was encouraging to see her confidence develop over the short period of the session and the comfort she felt with her peers.